The Princess of Wales looked like any other parent as she enjoyed a pub and park playdate with a group of fathers in Arnos Grove, north London last month.
But it was a playdate with a purpose as she highlighted the important role that fathers play in their children’s lives by meeting members of the Dadvengers community group.
“The Princess of Wales really gave a lot of her time,” founder Nigel Clarke tells HELLO! “She spoke to everyone, had a real interest in it, knew the troubles and the difficulties that you have in engaging with men.”
Presenter Nigel, who is known for his work on The Baby Club on the BBC’s CBeebies, founded Dadvengers in 2019. He reveals that Kate’s team approached them to learn more about the work of the community group.
“Someone on their team got in touch with us and said, ‘We really like what you’re doing, how long have you been doing this?’ I think once they found out more, they told the Princess about it, and she was really up for coming down and seeing what we do and meeting people.”
Dadvengers helps to support fathers on their journey through parenthood through a series of online training programmes, podcasts and more recently, the in-person ‘Dad Walks,’ currently taking place in north London and Norwich.
Nigel was inspired to set up the group after hosting an all-dads episode of The Baby Club.
“The response that we got from everyone was like, ‘Oh, this is amazing. This is fantastic. This is so cool.’ And I thought it was a bit much of a reaction. I thought that this shouldn’t be different or special. This should be normal,” he explains.
“So I did a bit of research online to see what there was out there in the world for people to actually go in and take part in. And there wasn’t much and the things that I did find, I felt the tone of it was kind of talking down to dads rather than supporting dads. So I decided that I was going to make a podcast to champion and show that dads are actually out there doing it.
“Then the pandemic hit and the podcast had to be put on hold. So we started doing some live chats on Instagram and that went on for two years straight with weekly chats. It turned into a website and then Dadvengers was born from that just seeing how much people enjoyed it and said it was needed and how it filled a space.”
The Princess launched her Shaping Us campaign in January, which aims to raise awareness of how our relationships, experiences, and surroundings in our earliest years lay the foundations that shape the rest of our lives.
Kate’s Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood annual public perception survey, which was published earlier this year, found that men are significantly less aware than women of the extraordinary impact of the first five years of a child’s life.
Nigel says: “I think one of [Kate’s] big focuses right now is making that first five years so supportive because of all the things that children go through and encouraging men to be part of it because I think even through Shaping Us, they haven’t had the engagement from the dads. And I think that we are one of the leading organisations in the UK for actually engaging with dads.”
Aiding mental health is one of the four core pillars for Dadvengers, as well as breaking dad stereotypes, sharing knowledge and building better parent communities.
Nigel explains: “Probably the most difficult part of what we do is getting men to turn up and show up because you’ll say to a man, ‘Do you want to go to this group?’
“One – they’re sometimes worried they’re going to be the only guy there. Or a lot of these services that are for men are pitched as mental health services like you’re struggling. So they automatically think, ‘Oh no, I don’t need to go to that because I’m doing all right,’ even if they actually aren’t doing that well and they need some help.”
He adds: “So I think that’s been a big part of how we’ve been a successful organisation. It’s the fact that even though we’re heavily focused on the mental health of the family as a whole and men in particular, we never pitch it. That’s never the leading thing. It’s not ‘Oh, come and join one of our dad walks, we’re going to help you with your mental health.’ That’s what we’re actually doing but we never pitch it like that.”
With ambitions to roll out more Dad Walks across the country, can we expect Prince William to join one?
“I was cheeky,” Nigel laughs. “I said I’d love to have him on one of our podcasts and to have him come to the walk and [Kate] was quite enthusiastic.”